Will Iowa’s 2nd District flip again? What separates Ashley Hinson, Liz Mathis in tight race

Stephen Gruber-Miller | Des Moines Register >

Iowa’s 2nd District is a key part of Republicans’ plan to take control of Congress

KEY POINTS

  • Both candidates are former television reporters and anchors
  • Democrat Liz Mathis and Republican Ashley Hinson have a combined $3.7 million in banked donations
  • Abortion rights debate becoming key issue that could energize voters

In each of the last two elections, the congressional district in Iowa’s northeast corner has flipped back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrat Liz Mathis is hoping to flip the seat one more time this fall, while U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson aims to hold onto her position to maintain Republican control.

Hinson, a former state representative from Marion, won the seat from Democratic incumbent Abby Finkenauer in 2020, who had won it by defeating Republican incumbent Rod Blum in 2018.

Republicans believe they’ll wrest control of Congress from Democrats this year — and holding onto districts like Hinson’s will be pivotal.

Meanwhile, Democrats hope the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade has energized their base at the same time the party is enjoying several legislative victories.

Hinson has had an attention-grabbing debut in Congress, joining the powerful Appropriations Committee in her first term. Politico reported she may seek to join House leadership if Republicans win back the chamber.

Mathis, a state senator from Hiawatha, is well known after a nearly 30-year career as a television journalist in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, the district’s two largest cities.

Hinson fired up a crowd at her annual BBQ Bash in late August, opening the event by joining a four-piece band to play country tunes on her violin, including John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and the national anthem.

Hinson, who, like Mathis, worked as a television reporter and anchor before running for public office, has criticized President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying Democratic control in Washington has led to higher taxes and spending and rising crime.

“You deserve a check on the Biden administration, and that is exactly what I want to do,” Hinson told the crowd. “We have to take back the House because we see what’s at stake.”

Mathis, who was a journalist and nonprofit leader before being elected to the Iowa Senate in 2011, has emphasized her biography at campaign events and in her advertising.

Her first television ad of the race, titled “News,” shows clips of the candidate’s years as a television news reporter and anchor at KCRG in Cedar Rapids and KWWL in Waterloo.

In each of the last two elections, the congressional district in Iowa’s northeast corner has flipped back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrat Liz Mathis is hoping to flip the seat one more time this fall, while U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson aims to hold onto her position to maintain Republican control.

Hinson, a former state representative from Marion, won the seat from Democratic incumbent Abby Finkenauer in 2020, who had won it by defeating Republican incumbent Rod Blum in 2018.

Republicans believe they’ll wrest control of Congress from Democrats this year — and holding onto districts like Hinson’s will be pivotal.

Meanwhile, Democrats hope the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade has energized their base at the same time the party is enjoying several legislative victories.

Mathis, who was a journalist and nonprofit leader before being elected to the Iowa Senate in 2011, has emphasized her biography at campaign events and in her advertising.

Her first television ad of the race, titled “News,” shows clips of the candidate’s years as a television news reporter and anchor at KCRG in Cedar Rapids and KWWL in Waterloo.

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“For 30 years I shared stories that were uniquely Iowa,” she says in the ad. “And whether they made you mad, made you laugh or made you cry, I worked to tell you the truth. And I won’t stop now.”

Federal campaign finance reports show that as of June 30 Hinson had raised $4.9 million this election cycle and had $2 million in the bank. Mathis has raised $2.6 million, with $1.7 million in the bank.

Both candidates have support from their national party leadership.

Liz Mathis, Democratic candidate for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, during the inaugural County Line fundraiser, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Sutliff Farm & Cider House in Lisbon, Iowa.

Mathis is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” list, a designation that comes with organizational and fundraising support. And GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s political action committee, the Congressional Leadership Fund, recently announced a $1.25 million ad reservation in the district on Hinson’s behalf.

Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from July found 54% of likely voters in the district favor a Republican candidate, while 42% favor a Democrat. The poll did not include the candidates’ names.

On Aug. 25, forecaster Inside Elections changed its rating of the race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” — a shift in Democrats’ favor.

In a speech at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Mathis told a crowd that she hasn’t lost an election.

“I am going to take that energy and that motivation and that winning streak to Congress with me,” she said Aug. 20. “I plan on winning in the 2nd District.”

Candidates focused on inflation

Both candidates say they’re hearing from families about rising costs — a subject that is top of mind for Iowans.

The July Iowa Poll found 60% of Iowans view inflation as a critical issue as they think about the election this fall — higher than any other.

“Many Iowa families are facing some tough times, and Washington’s making it harder,” Mathis says in her ad. “Truth is, Republicans need to stop the culture wars, and Democrats need to lower costs for families.”

Mathis has emphasized the benefits to Iowa of legislation such as last year’s infrastructure law, which Mathis praised for sending $5 billion to Iowa to fix roads and endangered bridges and expand broadband internet. In her Soapbox speech, Mathis criticized Hinson for voting against the law.

“She voted no — now remember that — but also took credit, about two weeks later, for a project that was funded by infrastructure money,” Mathis said. “That is not the Iowa way. We don’t do that.”

Hinson said she opposed the infrastructure law because Democrats were trying to tie its passage to a larger health care, climate and social spending bill known as Build Back Better. But once the law was passed, she said she pushed for money to come to Iowa.

“My No. 1 job is to make sure that the policy in Washington, D.C., respects taxpayers,” she said. “And unfortunately, when the infrastructure bill was directly tied to BBB with rampant inflation surging in the background, I could not support that amount of spending.”

Mathis also criticized Hinson’s votes against the American Rescue Plan, which was aimed at COVID-19 recovery, and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which contains spending to lower health care costs, provide tax credits for clean energy and reduce the federal deficit.

Both pieces of legislation passed Congress with only Democratic votes.

Hinson said Democratic spending has driven inflation higher.

“We have seen since they took control, record-high inflation — the bacon, the bread and the groceries, baby formula, if you can even find it — everything costs more,” Hinson told the crowd at the BBQ Bash. “We’ve seen gas at record highs. We’re still paying $1.20-plus more than we were paying with President (Trump) in office.”

Meanwhile, she criticized Mathis for her vote in the Iowa Senate against a $1.9 billion tax cut that will take Iowa to a 3.9% flat tax over several years, as well as eliminate taxes on retirement income.

“She voted against a bipartisan tax cut bill during a time of record inflation,” Hinson said. “What kind of message does that send to Iowans?”

Abortion a factor in the campaign

The subject of abortion has jolted the race this year after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the nationwide right to an abortion.

Mathis said the number of people talking to her about reproductive rights has skyrocketed compared with previous campaigns. And she thinks the issue will have an effect on the election.

“I’ve been canvassing, so I’ve personally gone to the doors and women are talking to me about reproductive rights,” she said. “And they want me to protect reproductive rights.”

Hinson was in the Iowa Legislature in 2018 and voted with the majority to pass the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which was intended to block most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — when cardiac impulses are detected in an embryo.

The law has been blocked by the courts, but Gov. Kim Reynolds is seeking to reinstate it.

Mathis called Hinson’s position on abortion “radical and extreme.”

“She wants to criminalize doctors,” she said. “She wants to criminalize people who are trying to seek health care, and that’s just not right.”

Hinson said she believes the Supreme Court decision was right to turn the issue of abortion over to the states, but she doesn’t want to see women prosecuted.

“I’ve been on the record as saying I don’t support prosecuting women for having an abortion,” she said.

Hinson said doctors need to follow any laws their states might pass on abortion.

“This is an issue that is up to the states,” she said. “I do think doctors should follow the law in the states that they are in.”

She said she believes being “pro-life” isn’t just about prohibiting abortion, but also encompasses policies such as improving maternal health care, preventing stillbirths and promoting alternatives to abortion.